Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said Sunday that white Americans so disregard the ongoing existence of racism that they’re more likely to believe in ghosts.
“More whites believe in ghosts than believe in racism,” Abdul-Jabbar, a former center for the Los Angeles Lakers, told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. ”That’s why we have shows like Ghostbusters and don’t have shows like Racistbuster. You know, it’s something that’s still part of our culture and people hold on to some of these ideas and practices just out of habit and saying that, well, that’s the way it always was. But things have to change.”
The panel was discussing Donald Sterling, the white billionaire owner of the LA Clippers who was banned for life from the National Basketball Association after a recording of him making racist remarks about blacks was leaked to the media.
The Ghostbusters franchise probably isn’t reflective of Americans’ belief in ghosts any more than comic book movies are reflective of Americans’ belief in superpowers – and “To Catch A Racist” would be a much better name for the kind of show Abdul-Jabar is envisioning than “Racistbuster.” The real question, however, is if Abdul-Jabbar was correct.
It’s hard to know what measures he was using, but a large number of Americans do believe in ghosts – 42%, according to a Harris Poll from late last year. A Pew survey from 2009 found that 29% of whites believe that they’ve been in touch with a dead person, and 17% believe they’ve actually interacted with a ghost. Another Pew survey from 2010 showed that whites are far less likely than blacks to believe that there is ongoing discrimination against black Americans, with 88% of blacks saying there was some or a lot of discrimination, and only 57% of whites saying so. Only 16% of whites said there is “a lot” of discrimination against blacks today, compared to 46% of blacks.
Based on those numbers, more white Americans believe in racism than ghosts. But there is still a significant gap between whites and blacks regarding the influence of racism in American life. While Abdul-Jabbar’s numbers seem to be off, the general point that whites are more likely to discount racism while blacks see it as an ongoing problem is undoubtedly true.